The family has begun the process of closing up my grandparents home… which has leant me the opportunity to go through old family photographs. Mostly these pictures are of my maternal grandparents and some of their family. When I was showing them to my husband he asked who that snazzy woman in the photos was. I was surprised as I answered “are you serious?” before I realized he didn’t know the grandma I remembered. He had only know my grandmother while she was in the throes of advanced dementia. It meant he didn’t know her as the country club going, clothes loving society lady… he only knew her as the old woman who wore mismatched clothes and carried an empty purse.
Last week I had a long conversation with an old-timer in our neighborhood. By old timer I mean he moved into this neighborhood in 1954. He described to me the old neighborhood and where the boundaries of blacks, Pollocks and Puerto Ricans used to be. He told me the houses used to be connected in the attics because most of the blocks were owned by one family. Then he told me about the freedom march he did around Girard College, a prep school two blocks up, with Dr Rev Martin Luther King and Cecil B Moore.
Now everytime I drive past Girard College I see ghosts. I see shouting people and police. I see marching, and tears and “freedom songs and some such nonsense” as my neighbor described. When I walk the dog down Corinthian I see old Polish buscia’s hanging laundry. When I run past the penitentiary I see prisoner transfers and yelling spectators.
I can’t stop seeing the ghosts around me.
It’s making me acutely aware that there are, indeed, ghosts everywhere. People in our families who are more than what they appear to be now, the dead who have shaped the living, the ghosts in our neighborhood. The ghosts we know… and the ghosts we don’t.
Years ago I read the book Twenties Girl by Sophie Kinsella and a scene Kinsella wrote continues to haunt me. She describes a young woman walking
into a nursing home and seeing the residents. But not the residents as they are now, wrinkled and lonely, but the residents as they see themselves. Dancing, laughing, drinking cocktails in flapper dresses and bowler hats.
It’s easy when you are active, and beautiful, and enjoying life to forget that the old lady with mismatched clothes was once a society lady. Or the old man with the unshaved face once played neighborhood ball with Judy Garland, or that the old man who hangs out in the park and smokes once marched with Dr King.
Today we remember those people. November 1st is All Saint’s Day, and it is a reminder that we as members of the church militant have a powerful unbreakable connection with the Church triumphant who have gone before us. It gives God solemn thanks for the lives and deaths of saints… those famous and those obscure.
I invite you today to give thanks, to give thanks for the freedom fighters, the warriors, the helpers. To give thanks for the theologians, the civil rights pushers, the scholars. To give thanks for the people we have loved deeply and lost, and those we never knew but admire.
For all the saints, who from their labors rest,
Who Thee by faith before the world confessed,
Thy name, O Jesus, be forever blest—
– William Waltham 1864